MEMPHIS — The First Father of the Sweet 16 sat courtside here Wednesday afternoon, wearing warmup pants and a Dayton Flyers zip-up jacket, eyes following the basketballs that flew at the rim. Having two sons coaching college teams that wear red jerseys has somewhat simplified his wardrobe, but keeping up with their success has been tough this time of the season.
“This is cramping my style a little bit,” John Miller joked.
Down on the floor at FedEx Forum, Archie Miller stood with his hands behind his back, watching another his Dayton men’s basketball team practice. In his third season as a head coach, John’s younger son has guided the No. 11 Flyers to both his first NCAA tournament and their first Sweet 16 since the bracket expanded in 1985.
Across the country, in Anaheim, Calif., top-seeded Arizona has begun preparation for its own second-weekend date. Coached by Sean Miller, the Wildcats have been mainstays in March Madness for some time, but this weekend brings a first: On Thursday, when the action officially begins, Archie and Sean will become the first brothers to both coach in the same Sweet 16.
Which is to say, the proud 70-year-old father had a choice to make. He began the season with Dayton, traveling to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational, then migrated to Arizona when the weather grew too cold in Ohio. He has watched the Flyers rebound from a four-game losing streak in January to make a deep NCAA tournament run and the Wildcats begin the season 21-0.
It has been a “feather-in-Arch’s-cap kind of year,” John said, but one he saw coming. The former North Carolina State guard had been an assistant in three power conferences at four schools from 2004 to 2011, including at Arizona under Sean, before he got the job at Dayton.
The chaos of March Madness has precluded the brothers from speaking but once during the tournament, after the second round when both teams advanced to the second weekend, and John Miller has been swept up, too. He flew with the Flyers to Memphis, where he will stay as long as they do, watching from a coach’s perspective like he always has.
John Miller’s career began at Pfeiffer University in Charlotte, but he left after one season and got into the high school ranks. There, he won four state titles and over 650 games.
On Wednesday, Archie explained the reason his father went back to the prep level.
“You talk about a coach who could have coached at any level of basketball at any time he wanted,” Archie said following Dayton’s open practice.”He chose not to do that. He chose to be with his family. By doing that, he created an environment that was second to none in terms of growing up around the game. It was always about playing, competing, winning, working. Everything that we do.”
The attention has probably surprised his father, Archie said, perhaps because of the procession of reporters waiting to talk with the man who raised two Sweet 16 coaches. John Miller still works back home near Pittsburgh, training up-and-comers at the gym. He has eight grandchildren and two daughters, one who played basketball at Elon, the other a tennis player. But the months of March and April now belong to his sons, the toasts of college basketball, the Final Four only two wins away.
“He’s probably the main reason why we sit here today,” Archie said.